Wednesday 25 July 2018

The House on Schellberg Street as a Play

Drama, Theatre, Mask, Theater

 General notes

So, my first attempt at writing a play. It's an adaptation of the first novel in the cycle, The House on Schellberg Street.  
It has a very big cast with a lot of small parts. Even the main parts – Renate, Hani and the Nazi Officer are not all that onerous.
I wrote it with the stages of the Octagon and the Whitefield Garrick in mind. In particular I think of the Octagon's production of Jane Eyre. It was all staged within a cage, with two forms and two small tables the only set furniture.  I can see my play using this plus one more small ordinary height table and three chairs.

Writing or conversion process

I decided which scenes to include. There is still a balance of the three story strands:  Renate's story, the story of the school in the cellar and the story of Renate's class mates. One scene exists in the play that is not in the book – a reunion between Renate and her former classmates.  This is the final scene.
After a couple of edits I decided I really must include the scene where Renate befriends a small cat, difficult as that might be to stage.  
I did a little playwriting and screenwriting as part of my Masters degree. Working at a university I have access to the very best of craft books and several experts. This prompted me to conducting about twenty edits including one where I reduced every scene to fifty words. The latter was really useful. The scenes were later expanded again but they remained considerably tighter than they had been in the first place.

Read through and walk through 8 July 2018

Many thanks to the Whitefield Garrick  for providing the space and some of the actors. We also had Drama students from the University of Salford and some of my "dramatic" pals from Ordsall A Cappella Singers .
I provided cake.
The read through identified some problems but it also made the play come alive. The partial walk-through afterwards made it even more dynamic. The actors enjoyed it.

Problems identified

There are three different settings and several different places within these settings. We need to make these clear. Some suggestions included specific areas of the stage being used for specific settings, some colour coding in costumes and some audio signalling, Brecht-style, of what is happening.
Yes, there is an off-stage rape scene. There needs to be a little more clarity when Trudi and Gisela come back on stage about what has happened.
The cast is huge and / or some people can take several of the small parts. That and the passage of time can make things confusing. Three of us identified separately that we need another narrator, perhaps to play opposite the Nazi Officer. One suggestion was to let Clara, Renate's grandmother, do some of the narration.

What I'm now doing

I'm rewriting it as radio play but I'm also continuing to develop it as a stage play.

I've also divided it into episodes – six in total, though it may need more after I've finished adding the extra passages of narration.

I've actually created Clara, as suggested, as a narrator but also Mrs Cohen, Renate's teacher and mentor in England and Anika, the most prominent of the German girls.
I'm now working through to see if there is any dialogue / action or scenes I can cut to keep the play to a reasonable length.     
I'm trying to keep "chorus" down to six. This will involve adults playing young people – with the possible exception of one young girl - and chorus members being relatively androgynous. This may be more of a casting issue than a writing one.
I'll also make sure there are time and place markers in every scene.
Some of the stage direction also needs tidying up.
There's much work to be done, as usual but I do feel that it's getting somewhere.